Saturday, September 27, 2008
Of course it's not worth spilling ink on the debate that just finished when we still await, in just five short days, The Key Event in the Universe, Ever. It's not enough to say that television needs Palin; one ought to ask whether there can now even be television in the absence of Palin. But anyway.
I've learned by this point that I simply cannot trust myself to form "accurate" "impressions" of a debate--quite apart from any question of substance, there are just too many layers of self-reflexive metainterpretation to even grasp what's transpiring on the stage. (I.e., I can't separate what I seem to be seeing and hearing from my very abstract guesses at how what I seem to be seeing and hearing is being seen and heard by Chris Matthews, who himself is interpreting what he seems to be seeing and hearing in terms of how he judges it will be perceived by some outlandishly hypothetical audience, and so forth.)
There's just no point. In 2000, Al Gore stepped into the ring with a man who vividly, grotesquely, for 90 straight minutes, demonstrated not only that he was not fit for a position of high governance but that he was suffering from a panoply of very severe cognitive, verbal, intellectual and emotional impairments--a clearly brain-damaged person. But I was wrong: Gore was judged to have only narrowly "won" the debate, and his win lost him ground by having forced him to condescend to a retarded citizen.
By 2004 my perceptions were so skewed that I assumed the insistent, petulant whining and frightened, defensive sniping the aforementioned citizen would be interpreted as "strong" and "decisive" by an Audience that had shown itself more than willing to accept the former characteristics as the latter. Again I was wrong--the Audience judged Kerry the winner.
Tonight, I saw that same insistent, petulant whining and frightened, defensive sniping, but coated in McCage's brittle shell of verbal dexterity and appearance of intellectual acumen. And again, I assumed that appearance of insistent conviction would be incredibly seductive to the Audience, and that Obama would come across as somewhat "weak," or at least weaker. On the other hand, it seemed to me that the Audience--perhaps having heard Obama only in vague, grandiloquent speechifying mode--would be impressed by the volume of concrete assertions he offered. He can deal in fact as well as he can in emotional appeal. I supposed the overall impression might be pretty much a draw.
So again I was surprised to learn that snap polls were showing a verdict in favor of Obama by significant majorities.
I think maybe I didn't take into account the all-important expectations game, and how soundly the notion that McCage was the "foreign policy expert" would be implanted in the mind of the Audience. Given these preconditions, many viewers were probably blown away by Obama's command of the subject matter, and probably less impressed with McCage's litany of visits to Waziristan and meetings with various leaders with "shenko" in their names. (Can you imagine the grief egghead candidates such as Gore and Kerry would have received for citing Waziristan no less than 17 times? I guess one gets a pass on egghead geography knowledge so long as it's assumed the candidate has personally torn limb from limb at least one resident of said location as a standard feature of the visit.)
Overall, the mistake in my impressions this time was not factoring in how what the Audience was seeing/hearing on stage was supplementing their existing impressions. McCage may have perhaps controlled the debate, waged it on "his turf"--but that's a turf everbody already knows. For years, McCage has been going on the TV every other day, spouting off about this same shit. Everyone's heard it before.
But they hadn't heard what they heard from Obama. There's an actual supplement. Possibly even a supplement that gives large numbers of nervous Obama-leaning voters a strong assurance in voting for him.
I think the biggest surprise of the night was that after a week of insane stunts, McCage did not--as Abote had feared--pull one in the debate. Maybe he should have.